November is my favorite month in Florida because where I live it’s not too cold but the heat’s mostly scared off by the threat of a seasonal change. Sadly it’s always just a threat, for Florida knows no such seasons. I remember sitting in my office staring out of my imaginary window and wondering what would happen if I stood up and threw myself down the aisle of cubicles screaming for mercy. Would Harry poke out of his office and tell me to pack my desk up? Probably not. They’d probably just let me take a twenty-minute power nap in the new employee lounge and give me extra strong coffee. That silly Garrison, they’d say, and then they’d all fall back into the drone of the day that sucks us dry from eight to five every day of the grueling work week. I don’t know what it was about this particular day, but I decided instead of making a scene, I’d just leave. My mother’d sent me a brochure on an artist’s camp only about an hour from where I lived where you could go and look at trees, I guessed, and be inspired. I thought the idea of it sounded a little absurd, you can’t invoke the inspiration to create, but something about my very solid, white window made me consider using it as an excuse to find the time to paint and get out of town for a few days.
I’d been painting since I was in kindergarten like all kids with anxious fingers and anything of color thick and thin enough to work as paint, but I kept it going. All the way through college I painted, even got a few girls to pose in my poor excuse for an apartment. That night after work as I read over the brochure I realized I hadn’t even touched a canvas in three years. Brighton’s Artist Hideaway: We just give you the space and you fill it in. Catchy. It was a sophisticated kind of thing, as it appeared, where you were put up in a personal cabin, offered several workshops and classes from the fundamentals of oil painting and sculpting basics to yoga and tai chi. I figured I could use the break and surprisingly enough, Harry didn’t protest mush to giving me a couple days off. I think it was the lack of dilation in my eyes, but who knows.
Friday morning I packed up all my painting supplies and a couple blank canvases and set out for Brighton’s. I was twenty-eight and off to camp. When I arrived I was checked in and supplied with all necessary information to choose any classes I wanted to attend, then tucked away into a small but quite comfortable cabin, of course nested right by the central lake. I ended up signing up for a meditation class Saturday morning and Sunday, a human form sketch class. But as for Friday, as soon as I tried out the bed I was gone, out cold until about seven o’clock in the evening. It was spectacular.
I woke and eventually dragged out of the cabin to take a walk around. It was like a huge deep breath, being there away from offices and jamming fax machines and nasal voices. I just walked around a bit, nodding a few hellos to fellow campers as I strolled down the wood-chipped path by the water. I almost felt relaxed.
Saturday morning I learned I didn’t know how to release my mind and the young instructor took it upon himself to enlighten me. I was determined to get my money’s worth and damnit I was going to meditate. At the end of the session I figured out how to forget myself, and it was amazing. Still being early I rolled on down to the lake and found myself a nice secluded spot guarded by trees, and sat down to enjoy breathing into my stomach for the first time. I must’ve dozed a little, for when I woke there sat across from me a woman with a tiny easel and canvas to boot, intently working a brush and ignoring me.
“Oh, hey. When’d you get here?” I yawned and scratched my head.
She merely shifted her eyes and slowed her hand even more, not speaking, but making me feel stupid enough. She was stunning and suddenly I was awake enough to realize it. “This is my spot.” Her voice was clean and definite.
“I’m sorry,” I shifted and sat up a little more. “I was just –“
“I really like to be alone when I’m here, so if you could…”
I was supposed to invite myself to leave at that point but instead smiled at her. “I’ll be quiet.”
She sighed and ignored me for the next two hours, but she let me watch her. I’d strangely acquired a little backbone and some guts to go with it. So I studied her brush strokes and watched her face tighten and relax as she blew life into the paint she spread across the barren stretch of white. When I’d had my fill of beautiful bitch by the lake I simply got up and left. She’s all I could think about all night and all I could try to draw. I wanted to paint her. Her. And suddenly I experienced the worst kind of block – her.
Sunday morning I brought a canvas, some charcoal to sketch and my paints to that spot again instead of attending the sketch class. I’d become obsessed overnight and I had to get it out of my system. When I got there she’d beaten me to it, so I set up quietly.
“Beat me today,” I dared speak as I sat down.
“Please don’t talk. You couldn’t have anything terribly interesting enough to share.”
I was shocked by the degree of rudeness, but it oddly only drew me to her more. I began trying to sketch her there, seated and painting her own masterpiece. She ignored me as the day before but after an hour broke her own rule and stretched her neck out to look at what I was doing.
“Are you drawing me?”
“Trying.” I didn’t pause my work. Something was blocking my hand from creating her form in charcoal, and I was frustrated. I couldn’t find it.
“Stop it.” She didn’t yell nor did she snap. She spoke gently and softly, yet cold as a blade. It was arousing and suddenly I wanted her to protest everything about me.
“No thank-you. I like what I’m doing. And you’re beautiful. So please, as you were.”
I could see her staring for a moment, slightly knocked off-balance, and then she did as I said, only after giving me something to think about. “You haven’t got it. It’s not in your face.”
I looked at her. How did she know?
“Draw all you want. You don’t have anything. You probably work too hard to remember what it is to be driven by your own inspiration.” And with that she was done speaking to me for the day and I was put to shame.
I stayed there nonetheless for another four and a half hours concentrating, sketching and erasing and smudging my version of this goddess with long blood-red hair and perfectly immaculate face. I knew I could never do her justice, but I could hardly start. I left when I could take the lack of it no longer and ordered some food, deciding I needed one more morning by the lake. Harry wanted me back but relented when I started in on one of my rants about anything and everything that was going wrong and how badly I needed just one more day.
Monday morning I got there first and just sat a while. I didn’t open my paints or play with my brushes, didn’t even look at my attempt from the day before. I just waited a while and let November soak in one last day. When she came I didn’t look at her, didn’t say a word. For an hour I sat quiet and stubbornly stared out across the lake. I wanted to feel her presence and breathe and just be there. After enough time I figured I may as well look at her one last time, absorb that intoxicating pheromone she must have been giving off. When I turned my head and found her sitting with her canvas and paints, steadily detailing her piece, I found her there topless. Completely. I stared. Blatantly stared and admired the utter perfection of her breasts. She painted topless. Did she always? Was she trying to impress me? I doubted that but what on earth was she doing? I thought maybe it allowed her more creative freedom not to bind her, well, breasts. After a generous period of genuine amazement she glanced at me from behind her canvas.
I looked at her lovely face and felt the overwhelming drive of inspiration to paint her exquisite perfection on a wall. “I’m inspired by your shirt.”
The hand of God might’ve reached down and given her a little tickle because she cracked a modest smile.
“My name’s Annie.”